Matt’s Minute

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By Matt McCormack

Unless your cable package mysteriously does not include ESPN, then you probably have heard about the Heat’s historic 23-game win streak.  The last time they lost, Ray Lewis was still an active NFL player.  They currently hold the second-longest winning streak in NBA history along with the 2007-08 Rockets, only trailing the 1971-72 Lakers (an astounding 33 straight wins).  As LeBron James and the Heat march closer to magic number 33, the question arises: where does this streak rank among the legendary winning streaks in professional sports history?

Out of the four major sports, basketball appears to be the easiest sport for a great (or simply hot) team to accomplish a winning streak of epic proportions.  In baseball, the old adage still rings true: you are only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.  The very small probability that all five starting pitchers will catch fire at the same time is what makes it so difficult to maintain a prolonged winning streak.  The longest winning streak in modern baseball history came in 2002 from the famous “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics, who strung together 20 consecutive victories.  Their streak (and entire season in general) was so unexpected and garnered such attention that Hollywood made a movie about it.  I don’t see that happening with the Heat anytime soon.

Like baseball, it is also difficult to maintain long winning streaks in hockey.  Success depends largely on your goalie: no matter how well your team plays, if your goalie has an off night, a loss might result.  Similarly, if the opponent’s goalie stands on his head for 60 minutes, there is nothing your offense can do about it.  The unpredictability of a goalie’s performance from day to day explains the parity in hockey today: more than any other sport, low playoff seeds in hockey often find themselves in the championship.  Therefore, it is difficult for the “dominant” teams to string together many wins in a row.  This is what makes the Blackhawks’ recent 24 game point streak so impressive; it probably will not be repeated for a very long time.

Football is probably closest to basketball in terms of winning a large number of consecutive games.  Take the Patriots’ near-undefeated season in 2007 as proof.  A dominant team in the NFL can reel off a large portion of the season’s games any given season.  Injuries are so prevalent in football, however, that one concussion or torn ACL to a star player can quickly turn a 12-4 juggernaut into a 4-12 disappointment.

In basketball, if a great team gets hot at the right time, a winning streak with no end in sight can result, as it has with this year’s Miami Heat.  Will they reach the record set by the ’71-72 Lakers?  Probably not: After all, the Heat have made it clear that their number one goal is to defend their championship title.  With that being said, the Heat are by far the best team in the NBA right now.  If they set their minds to it, they are certainly in the right sport to accomplish this highly improbable task.